By Mohammed Adow
BBC, Addis Ababa
The Ethiopian government has announced that it will give radio broadcast licences to privately owned firms beginning next August.
Offering FM licenses to international broadcasters is still under debate
Information Minister Simon Bereket gave the news as he presented a 10-month report on his ministry to parliament.
Observers had not expected the move to liberalisation to come so soon.
The Ethiopian government has jealously guarded its airwaves for a long time, with government media dominating the country's broadcast scene.
Mr Bereket acknowledged the delay in the liberalisation of the airwaves. However, he put the blame on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which he said had allocated Ethiopia few broadcast frequencies.
"It became very necessary to undertake extensive preparations to utilise the scarce radio and television frequencies that the ITU apportioned for Ethiopia," he told the Ethiopian Parliament.
He also argued that there was a need to ensure the right regulations were put in place to ensure that licenses did not end up in the wrong hands.
"There are countries in Africa where radio stations operated by drug barons exist," he said.
The ITU, however, says that 41 radio frequencies were allocated to Ethiopia in 1984, which have not been used.
Berhanu Nega, the director of the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute, is among those who applied for a license many years before.
"It is news that we have been waiting for a long time. Better late than never. Now that the government has announced officially that it will issue licences in August, we hope that it will keep its word and actually issue the licences in August."
Mr Nega says the wait for the government licence has been costly to his enterprise.
"We have been training journalists and we have been preparing to begin operations during the last four years. You can understand how costly it has been in financial terms, " he said. "But in any case we are glad that the licences will now be given and we hope that the government will keep its word."
The broadcast licences to be issued from August will be to Ethiopian firms and individuals seeking to open their own private radio stations.
The issue of whether to give FM frequencies to international broadcasters is still under debate according to the information minister. But he says that international broadcasters will be free to team up with private radio stations as re-broadcasting partners.
The government will start accepting applications for licenses from July, as it is bound by law to give either a "yes" or "no" verdict within a month from the date of application.
With the licensing of private radio stations, the stage is set for a competitive media environment in a country where the population has known only government media as their source of information.